Weiner comes under attack for lying, and a crowd of seniors doesn’t want to hear it

Weiner with a group of women, after a forum on aging. (Reid Pillifant)
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Anthony Weiner was targeted in a fresh round of attacks from his rivals, who had, before Eliot Spitzer gave them an excuse, mostly avoided personal attacks, or discussion of the scandal that drove Weiner from Congress.

"I think as mayor you have to keep your word," said Sal Albanese, at a candidate forum at N.Y.U. this morning entitled "The Future of Aging in New York City."

This was in the course of attacking Weiner for voting in favor of some vacancy decontrol in 1994, when he and Weiner both served on the City Council.

"You have to be true to your word," Albanese said. "Tony Weiner lied to organizations about this bill and turned around and voted against it. He lied. As he lied about his texting scandal on CNN after that as well."

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A loud murmur went through the crowd of what looked to be more than 200 senior citizens, who had nearly filled a large auditorium at N.Y.U.'s Kimmel Center.

"So I bring this up—" Albanese tried to continue, as the murmur turned to boos. "Whatever you think—" he said, before the loud boos won out, and the moderator intervened to say he was going to "leave that there."

Weiner had earlier defended his decontrol vote by comparing it the national health care debate while he was in Congress, saying he had hoped for a national single-payer system but had to settle for Obamacare, which was a compromise, but still represented progress.

"First of all, Anthony, you didn't get Obamacare," responded public advocate Bill de Blasio, who avoided Albanese's personal line of attack. "President Obama got Obamacare. I know you have a tendency to think the world revolves around you, but it was President Obama. Second, Anthony, you can't defend a vote for vacancy decontrol by saying you had no choice and there was nothing else we could do."

De Blasio, who cited his work at the Clinton administration's Department of Housing and Urban Development under Andrew Cuomo, said Weiner should have stood up against the real estate industry and demanded a better deal.

Weiner said he'd try again to explain the situation to Albanese and de Blasio, "who apparently didn't understand what was going on at the time."

He argued that the Republican-controlled State Senate, and the Republican governor George Pataki, would have let all rent regulations expire if the Council didn't make the requested changes.

"And it left the people with responsibility—something the public advocate's office is not familiar with since I don't know what the responsibility is of the public advocate—it left us with the responsibility of doing two things," he said, making it out to have been a choice between losing entirely or enacting a compromise.

"It was a moment of—wait for it, Mr. Albanese—leadership," he said.

Albanese had distinguished himself from the other Democratic candidates earlier in the campaign by directly mentioning Weiner's travails in a public forum, drawing a similar response when he tried it in early June.

But the hands-off strategy seems to have served as a cautionary tale, with Weiner near the lead in public polls, and the city's political establishment responding much more immediately and aggressively this week to Spitzer's announcement than it has to Weiner's position.

The local chapter of the National Organization for Women held a rally yesterday to denounce Spitzer and Weiner, though it didn't appear to have hurt Weiner's standing in the older demographic. The crowd laughed along with his jokes about his grandmother's senior center, and about Access-A-Ride, and about having to be "Carl Lewis" to cross some busy streets. After the event, a number of women came up to voice their support. Outside the auditorium, a dozen or more older women cycled through in groups to have their picture taken with him. 

Weiner, as he's done before, credited the new attacks to his success in the polls.

As some of the candidates peeled off the stage for other commitments, the moderator likened the process to "Star Search" (another joke that went over well with the older demographic).

"When you're doing well in the polls, it's more like 'Survivor,'" said Weiner.

A spokesman for Albanese, Todd Brogan, later sent over the following statement: "We're confident that, come September 10th, voters will confirm what Sal has been saying throughout this campaign: character counts and honesty counts. Mr. Weiner is sorely lacking in both departments."